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Metagame Mentor: The Quadruple Regional Championship Weekend

December 01, 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 format developments on the path to the Pro Tour. Last week, I analyzed the Pioneer results from the first weekend of Regional Championships. Today, I'll cover the second weekend, which featured Regional Championships for the Japan/Korea, Australia/New Zealand, East Canada, and Southeast Asia regions.

Top eligible players from these Regional Championships earned an invitation to the first Pro Tour in 2023, held during MagicCon: Philadelphia on February 17-19. But you don't have to be qualified for the Pro Tour to enjoy this festival. MagicCon: Philadelphia offers something for everyone—immersive experiences, exclusive play opportunities, cosplay, special guests, artists, panels, a party, incredible products, and more. The event celebrates all things Magic: The Gathering, and tickets are on sale starting today.

Congratulations to the four Regional Champions!

Christian Trudel won the F2F Tour Championship Toronto (i.e., the East Regional Championship for Canada) with Mono-Green Devotion. He earned an invitation for the first Pro Tour in 2023, as well as next year's World Championship!

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

Rei Hirayama won the Champions Cup Final (i.e., the Regional Championship for Japan/Korea) with Rakdos Midrange, defeating Masamasa Kyogoku, also playing Rakdos Midrange, in the finals. They fought through a stacked Top 8 featuring Hall of Famers Shota Yasooka and Shuhei Nakamura. We may see both finalists at the first Pro Tour and the World Championship in 2023!

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

Anthony Lee won the ANZ Super Series Final (i.e., the Regional Championship for Australia/New Zealand) with Rakdos Midrange. He earned an invitation for the first Pro Tour in 2023, as well as next year's World Championship!

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

And finally, congratulations to Michael Martin Go for winning the SEA Championship Final (i.e., the Regional Championship for Southeast Asia) with Azorius Control. We may see him at the first Pro Tour and the World Championship in 2023!

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

The Metagame and Win Rates

Based on all decklists from the four 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. Rakdos Midrange 19.9% 53.0%
2. Mono-Green Devotion 13.6% 49.9%
3. Izzet Phoenix 9.4% 44.8%
4. Mono-White Humans 7.3% 56.1%
5. Azorius Control 6.5% 52.1%
6. Abzan Greasefang 4.2% 46.0%
7. Gruul Vehicles 3.9% 52.3%
8. Lotus Field combo 3.8% 53.5%
9. Keruga Fires 3.4% 50.5%
10. Selesnya Angels 3.0% 49.4%
11. Mono-Blue Spirits 2.3% 54.5%
12. Rakdos Sacrifice 2.1% 54.9%
13. Enigmatic Fires 1.7% 54.3%
14. Esper Control 1.5% 52.1%
15. Bant Spirits 1.3% 35.9%
16. Selesnya Auras 1.3% 52.2%
17. Izzet Creativity 1.3% 46.8%
18. Mono-Red Aggro 1.1% 41.8%
19. Niv to Light 1.1% 34.0%
20. Mono-Black Midrange 0.7% 50.9%
21. Atarka Red 0.7% 52.8%
22. Bant Humans 0.6% 38.7%
26. Other 9.3% 42.1%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype. The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Mardu Greasefang, Mono-Green Aggro, Storm Herald combo, Dimir Control, Jund Sacrifice, Izzet Prowess, Boros Heroic, Jund Midrange, Dimir Oracle, Jeskai Control, Merfolk, Azorius Lotus Field, Grinning Ignus combo, Azorius Soldiers, Jeskai Ascendancy combo, Acererak combo, Selesnya Humans, Four-Color Humans, Jund Citadel, Elves, Jund Creativity, and Golgari Sorcery.

The most-played new-to-Pioneer cards from The Brothers' War were Misery's Shadow, Recruitment Officer, Brotherhood's End, Brushland, The Stone Brain, Obliterating Bolt, Cityscape Leveler, and Haywire Mite. These are the same top eight new cards as last week, albeit in a different order.

Thoughtseize Bloodtithe Harvester Fable of the Mirror-Breaker

Compared to the first Regional Championship weekend, the Pioneer metagame has shifted again. In terms of popularity, Mono-Green Devotion took a massive plunge, whereas Rakdos Midrange and Lotus Field combo surged ahead. In terms of win rates, Izzet Phoenix performed much, much worse than in the first weekend. Izzet Phoenix's poor performance was caused by the uptick in Lotus Field combo, which is a terrible matchup, and by the adoption of anti-graveyard cards in various main decks.

The big winners, in terms of both popularity and win rates, were Rakdos Midrange and Mono-White Humans. Rakdos Midrange came out ahead by tweaking its flex slots for the expected metagame, while Mono-White Humans preyed on the thrive of Lotus Field combo.

To give an indication of significance based on the sample size: the 95% confidence interval for Rakdos Midrange's win rate ranged from 49.8% to 56.1%. For Mono-White Humans, the data gives 95% confidence that its true win rate lies between 51.3% and 60.7%. (For the mathematically inclined: I used the Clopper-Person interval.)

I expect that Mono-White Humans has one or two more good weekends ahead until the metagame adapts by increasing sweepers counts in sideboards. That would be a natural metagame development in what I consider to be a healthy, dynamic environment. In a similar vein, last weekend also saw the return of Damping Sphere in the sideboard of many Mono-Green Devotion lists as a way to combat the rise of Lotus Field combo. Although Pioneer features many powerful cards and engines, there are tools to beat everything, and the right configuration differs from weekend to weekend.

At the moment, Rakdos Midrange gained a target on its back. Indeed, the finals in both Australia and Japan featured a Rakdos Midrange mirror!

Anthony Lee won his finals against David Mines with a big brain play employing his knowledge of the rules. When both players control Sheoldred, the Apocalypse, the triggers go on the stack in APNAP (Active Player, Non-Active Player) order, which means that the trigger from the non-active player resolves first. So with David Mines at 4 life, Anthony Lee used Bonecrusher Giant // Stomp to put him down to 2 life, then passed the turn. Two Sheoldred triggers went on the stack in David Mines' draw step, and he briefly fell to 0 life, losing the game with his own life gain trigger still on the stack.

While such interaction knowledge is useful, the last few slots in your main deck can be an even bigger driver of success. For example, the widespread adoption of Misery's Shadow has made the Mono-Green Devotion matchup closer to even. And to reinforce my earlier point about Izzet Phoenix's poor performance: Both Rakdos Midrange champions had anti-graveyard cards in their main decks as a countermeasure—Anthony Lee had Unlicensed Hearse; Rei Hirayama had Go Blank.

The Top 8 of the Regional Championship for Japan/Korea also showed various interesting choices. For example, Shota Yasooka stuck with Liliana of the Veil, which could be a great call if Selesnya Auras keeps rising in popularity. Meanwhile, Ryuji Murae had Hazoret the Fervent and Masamasa Kyogoku had Glorybringer, both of which are excellent in the mirror match. If Rakdos Midrange remains widely popular, then the cards that excel in the mirror match would be the best positioned, although that might provide a more hospitable environment for Izzet Phoenix.

Regardless of the direction, one thing is certain: The metagame will march ever onwards. Rakdos Midrange, like any archetype in Pioneer, is beatable. If it remains on top, then I'd expect players to flock towards Fires of Invention; Skysovereign, Consul Flagship; or other cards that line up well against Rakdos Midrange.

Spice Corner

Although the top tables at Pioneer tournaments will largely be populated by Rakdos Midrange, Mono-Green Devotion, Izzet Phoenix, Mono-White Humans, Azorius Control, and Abzan Greasefang, there are many other important metagame developments and brews to keep in mind. From among players who posted excellent records last weekend, most of which were good enough for a Pro Tour invite, several decks stand out as spicy choices.

Chris Cousens finished 12th at the Regional Championship in Sydney, Australia, good for a Pro Tour invite. Although his list features Llanowar Elves, Old-Growth Troll, and Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, this is not your typical Mono-Green Devotion deck. Indeed, this is Mono-Green Aggro.

Rather than ramping into Cavalier of Thorns and Storm the Festival and setting up convoluted Karn, the Great Creator loops, Cousens goes for the throat. Steel Leaf Champion provides a fast clock; Vivien, Arkbow Ranger is a more aggressive version of Karn; and Aspect of Hydra is a devotion payoff that can one-shot opponents. Meanwhile, Nykthos is still useful, for example to build a gigantic Lair of the Hydra or to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, which Vivien can grab from the sideboard.

Both Dmitry Medvedev and Alexey Shashov made the Top 8 of their Regional Championship in Singapore with the same 74-card Selesnya Angels list. (Shashov had one Guardian of Faith in his sideboard instead of the second Brutal Cathar.)

Selesnya Angels has been on the rise ever since The Brothers' War added Brushland and Kayla's Reconstruction to the Pioneer format, and this continued in the second weekend of Regional Championships. Medvedev and Shashov also made several small tweaks. First, they added two additional Collected Company hits: Tomik, Distinguished Advokist is a two-drop that nullifies the power of Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner, while Lunarch Veteran is a one-drop that synergizes with Righteous Valkyrie. Their singleton Brave the Elements is also a clever choice in an open decklist format. Finally, Deafening Silence and Silence in the sideboard help fight back against Lotus Field combo. All in all, Selesnya Angels is establishing itself as a real contender in the Pioneer metagame, and these tweaks shore up some of the deck's weaknesses.

Kazuhiro Kamata earned a Pro Tour invitation with his 15th-place finish at the Regional Championship in Aichi, Japan. He chose to play Rakdos Sacrifice with a tiny green splash because he believed he had a good matchup against Rakdos Midrange and Green Devotion. The matchup against Izzet Phoenix might be rough, but that shouldn't be a problem if that archetype is on the downturn.

Kamata's list features a sweet combo: two main deck copies of Kari Zev's Expertise along with two copies of Diabolic Intent. Just imagine stealing Old-Growth Troll and sacrificing it to search for a missing piece of the Witch's Oven + Cauldron Familiar + Mayhem Devil engine. That's pretty powerful indeed. He also has a singleton Korvold, Fae-Cursed King as a tutor target, which he can cast via Treasures or two green dual lands. Kamata felt that Kari Zev's Expertise was more powerful than access to Jegantha, the Wellspring, and he even managed to steal his opponent's Skysovereign, Consul Flagship one game.

Kazuya Kiyofuji made the Top 8 at the Regional Championship in Aichi, Japan with a variation on Azorius Control that I would describe as Azorius Lotus Field. With Strict Proctor and Discontinuity, you can annul the enters-the-battlefield tax, which means that you won't have to sacrifice two lands to Lotus Field. This allows you to ramp into Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or Shark Typhoon ahead of time.

His list also features a new addition from The Brothers' War in the form of Soul Partition. It may be only temporary removal, but that's all you need when your late game is superior. Also, if you exile Cavalier of Thorns while controlling Strict Proctor, your opponent suddenly needs nine total mana if they want to benefit from Cavalier's enters-the-battlefield trigger.

Hidenari Ikeda earned a Pro Tour invitation with his 15th-place finish at the Regional Championship in Aichi, Japan. While Azorius Control and Dimir Control have been the more typical choices for control decks in Pioneer, he proved the viability of Esper Control. The third color comes at the cost of more tapped lands, but the mana base is good enough overall.

Running all three colors provides clear benefits. Blue is of course a necessity for control players, as it offers countermagic and card draw. Black offers the most efficient spot removal in Fatal Push and the best sweeper in Extinction Event, which is superior to Supreme Verdict in the present metagame because it exiles Old-Growth Troll and Cavalier of Thorns. White offers the best win conditions in The Wandering Emperor and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. With Esper Control, you have it all.

Although Liam Hoban's 10-4 record may not have been enough for a Pro Tour invite, he made a deep run with a spicy new Dimir Oracle brew, potentially inspired by the deck that won the November 19 Pioneer Challenge.

Fueled by Fallaji Archaeologist from The Brothers' War, the game plan is to mill or exile your entire library as quickly as possible and then win by casting Thassa's Oracle. Once you start to chain Demonic Bargains, your library will disappear rapidly, although the process is still more convoluted than in the days of Inverter of Truth. Deck development like these prove that Pioneer remains underexplored, with plenty of wild options ready to be discovered.

Looking Ahead

The schedule for the remaining Regional Championships in this first round is as follows:

To follow along this coming weekend, bookmark the MTG Melee pages of the Regional Championship for Chinese Taipei and the Regional Championship for South America.

Looking ahead even further, in about ten months from now, Magic World Championship XXIX will be held on September 22-24, 2023 at MagicCon: Las Vegas. The field of competitors, who will vie for the total prize pool of $1,000,000, currently features:

The field will be extended to around 128 players based on the results from subsequent championships and Pro Tours in the 2022-23 season. Detailed invite criteria can be found here. But no matter where you're from, you'll have your regional champions to cheer for.

Although Magic World Championship XXIX is still almost a full year away, the excitement is already building up for the competitors. As Anthony Lee said after winning his Regional Championship: "I'm really excited. I've gotten to be on some Worlds testing teams the last few years, helping out [2018 World Champion] Javier Dominguez, who was invaluable by the way in helping me get here of course. And it's gonna be really exciting to be able to be the one competing. Right now I know Nathan Steuer and Sam Rolph are already qualified. We teamed with them for the [New Capenna Championship] so I know they're way better than me, but I hope that with Javier's help, we can bridge the gap."

High-level tabletop Magic is back. The passion and fire for in-person Magic tournaments shone through at the Regional Championships last weekend, and many players paved their paths to the Pro Tour. Moreover, with every subsequent event, the field for next year's World Championship is starting to firm up with more great talent.

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