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Metagame Mentor: The Spiciest Decks from the U.S. Regional Championship

April 13, 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's article cover the U.S. Regional Championship, which was held at Dreamhack San Diego last weekend. We'll take a closer look at the winning decklist, at the Standard metagame breakdown and match win rates for all major archetypes, and the spiciest decks that earned a Pro Tour qualification.

Rakdos Reanimator Takes the Trophy

Congratulations to Joshua Willis! He qualified for the U.S. Regional Championship at an RCQ at Game Nerdz in Wylie, Texas and took down the 939-player tournament with Rakdos Reanimator. In the finals, he defeated Isaac Sears in a Rakdos Reanimator mirror match. It went the full three games, but Willis ultimately emerged victoriously, clinching the trophy and $30,000. Sears earned $15,000 for second place, but both finalists qualified for World Championship XXIX.

In addition, the top 48 players of the U.S. Regional Championship earned an invite to Pro Tour March of the Machine. You can find the Top 8 bracket, photos, and more on the coverage page, and you can find all decklists and Swiss standings on the MTG Melee page.

Both Rakdos Reanimator decks in the finals used Atsushi, the Blazing Sky and Plaza of Heroes to more easily hardcast Atraxa, Grand Unifier. This proved valuable because the metagame had shifted from Grixis Midrange decks towards Rakdos Midrange. The two-color deck has better mana and is not as vulnerable to Razorlash Transmogrant, but it doesn't have access to Make Disappear or Disdainful Stroke. This weakness was exploited by The Cruelty of Gix and Atraxa, Grand Unifier. As Willis said: "After the meta shifted to beat Grixis, my friend Jacob Dunlap recommended Reanimator, as it felt really well positioned when counterspells were on the downswing."

The Metagame and Win Rates

Based on all 939 decklists submitted to the U.S. Regional Championship, I determined the metagame share and the non-mirror, non-bye, non-draw match win rate for every archetype. I used my own algorithms and definitions to assign archetype labels, thereby fixing any potential mislabeling on MTG Melee. Let's take a look!

Archetype Percentage of Field Match Win Rate
1. Esper Legends 18.4% 54.0% ✓✓
2. Rakdos Midrange 15.7% ↑↑ 52.8%
3. Mono-White Midrange 13.1% 50.4%
4. Grixis Midrange 10.0% ↓↓ 49.8%
5. Rakdos Reanimator 7.5% ↑↑ 51.5%
6. Domain Control 5.5% 49.9%
7. Selesnya Toxic 3.6% ↓↓ 49.6%
8. Mono-Red Aggro 3.1% ↓↓ 44.6%
9. Selesnya Enchantments 2.6% ↑↑ 49.8%
10. Grixis Reanimator 2.1% 34.7%
11. Azorius Soldiers 2.1% 47.5%
12. Jund Midrange 1.5% 39.3%
13. Mono-Blue Tempo 1.4% 50.0%
14. Orzhov Midrange 1.3% 49.4%
15. Rakdos Aggro 1.2% 46.6%
16. Four-Color Legends 1.0% 40.0%
17. Jund Reanimator 1.0% 46.3%
18. Jeskai Control 1.0% 55.7%
19. Other 8.0% 42.5%

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 Regional Championships in Mexico, China, and East Canada. The "other" category, continuing the descending order, included such deck archetypes as Rakdos Sacrifice, Mono-Black Midrange, Mardu Midrange, Esper Midrange, Esper Control, Boros Midrange, RataBlade Combo, Mono-Red Powerstones, Poison Ivy, Gruul Modified, Orzhov Aggro, Azorius Control, Mono-White Aggro, Gruul Powerstones, Bant Toxic, Bant Enchantments, Dimir Midrange, Cleric Reanimator, Azorius Midrange, Jund Sacrifice, Boros Equipment, and more.

The metagame at the U.S. Regional Championship, the last of the cycle, saw the culmination of two main trends from the Regional Championship season.

The first trend was the steady rise of Esper Legends. The archetype was around 7% of the field across the first seven Regional Championships, then surged to around 14% at the next four, and ended at over 18% of the field in San Diego. This past weekend, Esper Legends was the most popular choice overall, and it even had the highest win rate among all heavily-played archetypes. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben remains a giant nightmare for all decks that rely on noncreature spells, and Skrelv, Defector Mite and Plaza of Heroes are excellent at protecting the key legendary creatures. Esper Legends, powered by the most utilitarian mana base in all of Standard, will surely be one of the prime decks to beat at Pro Tour March of the Machine in three weeks from now.

The second trend was the move from Grixis Midrange towards Rakdos Midrange. Across the first seven Regional Championships, Grixis Midrange was around 28% of the field, while Rakdos Midrange was a measly 1%. However, as more and more players adopted cards like Furnace Punisher, Field of Ruin, and Razorlash Transmogrant to punish three-color mana bases, it became wise to cut the blue. At the U.S. Regional Championship, Rakdos took over Grixis in terms of popularity and performance. Of course, as mentioned, the lack of countermagic opened an opportunity that Rakdos Reanimator was able to exploit. Standard has not been stale, and the players who paid attention to the dynamics were rewarded.

The Spice Corner

Besides the well-known top-tier decks, several off-meta options found success as well, showing that the depths of Standard have not been fully explored yet. Let's take a closer look at four innovative brews that earned a Pro Tour invite last weekend.

This deck, which revolves around the interaction between Blade of Shared Souls and Ratadrabik of Urborg, is one of the coolest decks I've seen in a while. Rei "cftsoc" Zhang, who competed at several MTG Arena Set Championships as well as a Magic Online Championship Series over the past few years, is known for creating innovative combo decks, including Naya Fury or Jeskai Storm. Following their recent 38th place finish at Pro Tour Phyrexia with Lotus Field, they unleashed a new combo brew at the U.S. Regional Championship and piloted it all the way to the Top 8. Given their track record, I can't wait to see what they will register for Pro Tour March of the Machine!

The RataBlade combo, which uses the legend rule to melt your brain, is not for the faint of heart. The key piece of the combo is Blade of Shared Souls, which can turn the equipped creature into a copy of another creature you control. This is particularly powerful when you copy a legendary creature with a death trigger, such as Ao, the Dawn Sky. After copying, you'll control two legends with the same name, which means that the legend rule kicks in, allowing you to immediately benefit from a death trigger. As JasonILTG, one of the combo's developers, explained: Blade of Shared Souls "basically becomes something like a Skullclamp, where you get to pay 2 and sac a creature for value."

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The second important combo piece is Ratadrabik of Urborg, who effectively adds "make a nonlegendary 2/2 token copy" as a death trigger to all other legendary creatures. This includes legendary copies. For example, suppose that you control Ratadrabik of Urborg and cast Blade of Shared Souls, turning its Rebel into a copy of Ratadrabik. When it dies to the legend rule, the original Ratadrabik creates a nonlegendary 2/2 Ratadrabik copy. Unlike Blade of Shared Souls, Ratadrabik specifically says "it's not legendary," so this copy does not die to the legend rule. Now that you control two Ratadrabiks, suppose you attach Blade of Shared Souls to Corpse Appraiser, turning it into a legendary 5/4 copy of Ao, the Dawn Sky. If you do so, then you get not only an Ao death trigger but also create two nonlegendary 2/2 copies of Ao. It's hard to lose from that position.

But it gets better!


When you add Atsushi, the Blazing Sky, there's the possibility for an infinite combo. While controlling Blade and Ratadrabik, equip the Blade to any other creature, copying Atsushi. When it dies to the legend rule, you create three Treasures and create a nonlegendary 2/2 copy of Atsushi. Sacrifice two of those Treasures to equip the Blade to the Atsushi token and copy the original, turning it into a 4/4 legendary Atsushi that dies to the legend rule. Loop as often as you want, netting one Treasure per iteration. Once you have infinite mana, you can use the other mode on Atushi's death trigger to play your entire deck, then loop with Ao make your creatures arbitrarily large, and attack for the win.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker Go for the Throat Make Disappear

This mind-blowing combo is wrapped in a typical Grixis Midrange shell with staples like Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Go for the Throat, and Make Disappear. Every card in the deck is powerful on its own, but the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The emergence of the RataBlade combo (or Grixis Ao-Blade, as Zhang called it) could shake up Standard in the weeks to come, especially when this need not be the deck's final form. Many other builds and color combinations can be explored as well, although it may be important to retain the card that Zhang called out as the best of the weekend: "Ao, the Dawn Sky is just sort of broken against every deck in the format."

Dan Milechman finished 42nd at the U.S. Regional Championship with Gruul Modified, earning an invite to Pro Tour March of the Machine. Milechman's Gruul deck combines the aggression of hasty red creatures with the power of enormous green monsters. For example, the curve of Evolving Adaptive on turn one, Quirion Beastcaller on turn two, and Migloz, Maze Crusher on turn three will outsize any puny creatures the opponent might have mustered, allowing you to stomp over them. Moreover, because oil counters and +1/+1 counters count as modifications, Thundering Raiju has never been better, and Bloated Contaminator has a great time proliferating.

Compared to Mono-Red Aggro, the downside of Gruul Modified is that you lose out on Mishra's Foundry. Moreover, Furnace Punisher is far weaker. However, you get raw creature stats in exchange, which can be particularly important after boarding in Brotherhood's End. When you control a bunch of 4/4 creatures, Brotherhood's End can turn into a one-sided sweeper, which grants an edge against opposing creature decks. Conversely, as main deck Brotherhood's End rises in popularity in opposing decks, for example in the winning Rakdos Reanimator list, Migloz, Maze Crusher becomes more appealing as a standalone threat.

At my Regional Championship in Europe, I came close to registering a similar Gruul Modified deck. My build used Ascendant Packleader; Kami's Flare; and Halana and Alena, Partners instead of Strangle and Reckless Stormseeker, but the overarching strategy was basically the same. I ultimately opted for Mono-Red Aggro because I wanted to exploit main deck Furnace Punisher, but Gruul Modified may be better positioned now that the metagame has switched to higher basic land counts and more main deck Brotherhood's End. I believe that Gruul Modified has been largely overlooked as a competitive Standard option for aggro players, and I applaud Dan Milechman for proving the deck's viability last weekend with a well-earned Pro Tour invite.

We haven't seen many Oni-Cult Anvil decks throughout the Regional Championship season, but Andrew Debevoise and Julian Jakobovits didn't forget about the powerful artifact. Playing the same 75, they finished in 40th and 41st place, earning invites to Pro Tour March of the Machine.

Compared to Rakdos Sacrifice decks that I had seen previously, their build does not overemphasize sacrifice synergies. They didn't go all-in with cards like Voldaren Epicure, Voltage Surge, or Experimental Synthesizer, which lack raw card quality. Rather, they stayed close to a regular Rakdos Midrange deck with all the efficient cards, except with Mishra's Research Desk to trigger Oni-Cult Anvil and with Ob Nixilis, the Adversary to devour creature tokens. These bits of synergy can take opponents by surprise. In addition, Razorlash Transmogrant, which has become a Standard mainstay over the past few weeks, fits the sacrifice angle perfectly.

With their success, Debevoise and Jakobovits proved that Rakdos Sacrifice is still the real deal. For Rakdos players, it offers yet another alternative to Midrange or Reanimator builds.

Selesnya Enchantments emerged two weeks ago at the East Canada Regional Championship, where it stormed the tournament with an excellent win rate. This past weekend at the U.S. Regional Championship, the archetype had surged to 2.6% of the field, indicating that it has the power to compete with all the midrange decks at the top tables.

Selesnya Enchantments can outscale creature decks with Generous Visitor and Katilda, Dawnhart Martyr. And with Bogue's choice to run the full four copies of Hallowed Haunting in the main deck, the deck retains a lot of late-game staying power, although vulnerability to Farewell remains a problem.

Among Selesnya Enchantments players, the highest finish at the U.S. Regional Championship was by Sam Bogue, in 49th place. Although only 48 invites to Pro Tour March of the Machine are awarded, Top 8 competitor Rei Zhang already had an invite due to their performance at Pro Tour Phyrexia, which means that the slot passes down to Bogue.

Looking Ahead

Standard has not been stale, and the upcoming influx of cards from March of the Machine, which introduces the brand-new battle card type, will shake things up further. I look forward to play with them for the first time at this weekend's prerelease, but my first impression is that they are awesome from the perspective of mana advantage, even in Constructed.

Take Invasion of Tarkir, for example. Suppose I value two life at one mana; that's the exchange seen in Phyrexian mana, and it's the difference between Night's Whisper and Divination, or the difference between Thoughtseize and Distress. Then 5 defense is equal to 2.5 mana, which means that for the total effective price of 4.5 mana, Invasion of Tarkir provides a Shock effect, which I would value at 1 mana, and a 4/4 Dragon with an attack trigger, which I would value at 4 mana. Using this systematic, quantitative evaluation framework, Invasion of Tarkir provides 5 mana and two cards worth of value for the cost of 4.5 mana, which is a great rate. And that's without taking into account that mana advantage is even more important than life advantage or card advantage in the early game, even for aggro decks. I expect battles to impact multiple Constructed formats, and I'm excited to see how they will play out in practice.

After the tabletop release of March of the Machine, in roughly one week from now, the next Regional Championship Qualifier season will start as well. Ranging from April 22 through August 20, this season introduces format matching, which means that in-store RCQs are required to be either Pioneer or Limited, and they will qualify for a Pioneer Regional Championship later in the year.

And in roughly three weeks from now, Pro Tour March of the Machine will kick off at MagicCon: Minneapolis on May 5-7, featuring Standard and March of the Machine draft! But there's plenty to do at the MagicCon besides the Pro Tour. The tournament schedule features Pro Tour Qualifiers, the Secret Lair Showdown, and many other fun events, and pre-registration is open now.

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