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. As the year is drawing to a close, I'll be taking a look back at 2023 over the course of the next few weeks. Today, I'll highlight the biggest stories and metagame advancements from Standard in 2023. Next week, I'll review the year for Modern, and the week after I'll cover Pioneer.
Of course, the biggest news of the week was the Banned and Restricted Announcement, featuring changes to Pioneer and Modern. I'm excited to dig into the first big Pioneer and Modern events after the bans and analyze their results in the coming weeks. Indeed, this weekend there are huge Modern Regional Championship Qualifiers at Legacy Magic Showdown in Barcelona and at the Eternal Weekend in Pittsburgh. And the weekend after, there's the U.S. Regional Championship at Dreamhack Atlanta in the Pioneer format. But today, I'll first focus on Standard, combining an analysis of the current state of the format with an overview of the most important developments from 2023.
The Current Standard Metagame
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 format on MTG Arena, and it will be the format for the upcoming cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers, which runs from January 6 through March 24. Before diving into the top 10 Standard stories from 2023, let's start with a metagame snapshot.
To grasp the state of Standard with The Lost Caverns of Ixalan, I analyzed nearly 400 successful decklists from competitive events over the past three weeks. Specifically, I used all published Magic Online decklists from scheduled Standard events held from November 19 through December 4, along with all decklists from the Players Convention Aichi 2023 Open with net positive wins. To obtain a metric that combines popularity and performance, I awarded a number of points to each deck equal to its net wins (i.e., its number of match wins minus losses). Each archetype's share of total net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame.
|Winner's Metagame Share
|1. Esper Midrange
|2. Domain Ramp
|3. Azorius Midrange
|4. Azorius Soldiers
|5. Mono-Red Aggro
|6. Boros Humans
|7. Rakdos Control
|8. Boros Convoke
|9. Golgari Midrange
|10. Gruul Aggro
|11. Mono-White Midrange
|12. Bant Control
|13. Orzhov Midrange
|14. Esper Control
|15. Dimir Midrange
|16. Esper Legends
|17. Jund Midrange
|18. Bant Toxic
|19. Mono-Blue Tempo
|20. Gruul Dinosaurs
|21. Rakdos Sacrifice
|22. Izzet Pirates
The "Other" category included archetypes like Grixis Reanimator, Rakdos Midrange, Selesnya Enchantments, Azorius Control, Azorius Craft, Sultai Midrange, Mono-White Humans, Jeskai Legends, Naya Tokens, Simic Artifacts, Grixis Descend, Orzhov Control, and more.
The Lost Caverns of Ixalan has shaken up the metagame, injecting new cards and new strategies into the format. To accentuate the impact of the new set, my picks for the top 10 Standard stories from 2023 will put a special emphasis on the most important additions and innovations from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan. Let's dive in!
10. The Evolution of Azorius Soldiers
Starting at number ten, Azorius Soldiers has been a mainstay in Standard throughout the year, though the strategy has undergone considerable changes.
Simon Nielsen's Top 4 list from Magic World Championship XXIX gave him enough match points to clinch the Player of the Year title, but Azorius Soldiers didn't always look this way.
At the start of the year, the deck generally used
While Azorius Soldiers dropped a bit in popularity during the Standard Regional Championships and Pro Tour, deck builders innovated by cutting Soldiers and adding more inherently powerful cards. Cheng Han Lin became Regional Champion at the MIT Championship by shaving
At the World Championship, Team Handshake's Azorius Soldiers build further emphasized these developments. They removed
9. The Endurance of Mono-Red Aggro
Mono-Red Aggro, which uses haste creatures and burn spells to take the opponent down to zero life as quickly as possible, is one of the most perennial archetypes in the history of Standard, and 2023 was no different.
Mono-Red Aggro was 8.6% at the start of the year, 9.2% in March, 6.6% across the Regional Championships, 2.4% at Pro Tour March of the Machine, 3.2% in August, 9.5% at the World Championship, and 5.5% right now. While there have been minor ups and downs, the deck has remained a fixture of Standard throughout the year.
The representative list shown above, which Deleon91 used to clinch a second-place finish at a Standard Challenge last weekend, looks fairly similar to the way it was built a year ago. Nevertheless, Mono-Red Aggro has gained several upgrades throughout the year. During the Regional Championship cycle,
Wilds of Eldraine, however, revitalized the archetype with
Although The Lost Caverns of Ixalan hasn't added much for Mono-Red Aggro, the declining presence of
8. The Explosion of Domain Ramp
March of the Machine introduced the new Battle card type, and arguably the most impactful one was
At the beginning of the year, domain spells like
Yet it all changed when March of the Machine introduced
Domain Ramp recently gained another boost from The Lost Caverns of Ixalan.
7. The Advancement of Boros Humans
Ever since the release of
But The Lost Caverns of Ixalan unlocked a whole new chapter. Boros Humans takes everything that was great about the mono-white version and upgrades it with powerful new red creatures. For example, SoIMBAGallade made the Top 8 of a recent Standard Challenge with the list shown above. Since every creature is a Human,
The key new additions are
Similarly, putting a +1/+1 counter from
At a 4.2% of the winner's metagame over the past three weeks, Boros Humans is one of the hottest new decks to emerge out of the latest set, although another new strategy takes the crown.
6. The Emergence of Azorius Midrange
Combining all of the best value cards in white and blue, Azorius Midrange is the breakout deck of The Lost Caverns of Ixalan Standard.
Featuring value-generating threats, efficient permission, and the ability to operate at instant speed, Azorius Midrange has proven to be a formidable contender in the current Standard environment. Masashiro Kuroda made the Top 8 of the Players Convention Aichi 2023 Open with the list shown above, and many others found success with similar builds as well.
Overall, the deck makes good use of the explore mechanic, creating Map tokens with various cards to draw additional lands or to put +1/+1 counters onto fliers or lifelinkers. With a low curve, the deck can go wide with global boosts from
Over the past three weeks, Azorius Midrange climbed to 12.3% of the winner's metagame, and it's the hottest new development this month. But now let's go back in time and revisit what happened earlier in the year.
5. The Change Towards a Three-Year Standard Rotation
As the first step of the multifaceted plan to revitalize Standard, it was announced on May 7, 2023 that the lifecycle of all cards in Standard would be extended by one year. The extension of Standard rotation to three years was intended to make tabletop Standard more enjoyable, by giving cards more longevity and by allowing mechanics and archetypes to be built on over time. To facilitate the change, the release of Wilds of Eldraine did not trigger a Standard rotation, giving cards like
Since then, additional steps have been taken to give players and stores more enticing Standard events. Indeed, in 2024, there will be a slate of Standard play at every level. At local WPN game stores, Store Championships have shifted to Standard, and a weekly Standard play program will also be brought back in February 2024. For even more competitive opportunities, the upcoming cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers and the subsequent cycle of Regional Championships will feature Standard, and MagicCon: Chicago will host a $75,000 Standard Open.
There will be plenty of opportunities in 2024 to demonstrate your mastery of Standard. Although cards from Innistrad: Crimson Vow, Innistrad: Midnight Hunt, Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, and Streets of New Capenna will eventually rotate out in the fall of 2024, they remain legal in Standard tournaments over the next few months.
4. The Rise (and Fall) of Mono-White Midrange
Mono-White Midrange was one of the top decks in Standard during the Regional Championship season earlier this year, but it fell out of favor afterwards.
Mono-White Midrange exploits
William La Hay won the West Canada Regional Championship with, as he described it, a "Mono-White
Afterwards, the deck fell out of favor. It was only 3.6% of the metagame at Pro Tour March of the Machine, as without discard or countermagic it struggled in the face of powerful new top-end cards like
New options like
3. The Dominance of Rakdos and Grixis
In the first half of 2023, the red-black core of
The power of Rakdos Midrange was best displayed by Nathan Steuer, who had been on a historical run the past season, topping off with a victory at Pro Tour March of the Machine. After the Swiss rounds, Javier Dominguez, Karl Sarap, Simon Nielsen, and Nathan Steuer had made Top 8 as first, second, third, and fourth seed respectively, so Team Handshake dominated the Standard Pro Tour in historical fashion. Ultimately, Steuer's tight technical play rewarded him with a well-deserved trophy.
A few months prior, after that same Nathan Steuer used Grixis Midrange to win the World Championship in 2022, the dominant strategy in Standard was Grixis Midrange. It was 24.2% of the winner's metagame at the start of the year, 22.7% in March, and 20.6% of the field across the Regional Championships. Grixis Midrange was the most popular deck across all Regional Championships combined, and 42 players used the deck to qualify for the Pro Tour. Featuring an adaptable suite of answers and higher individual card quality than opposing decks, Zen Takahashi, Michael Rohrböck, and Adriano Melo all won their Regional Championships with the archetype.
Near the end of the Regional Championship cycle, however, more and more opponents tried to punish the three-color mana base with cards like
Yet regardless of whether they were classified as Rakdos, Grixis, Midrange, or Reanimator, all decks with
All in all, black-red decks dominated Standard in the first half of the year, but
2. The May 29, 2023 Banned & Restricted Update
To help shift the metagame to a more fun space, the May 29, 2023 Banned & Restricted Announcement banned
The announcement, which marked another step in the multifaceted plan to revitalize Standard, removed these cards to reduce the power of black-red decks. The three cards were chosen based on their power level, ubiquity, lack of counterplay, and/or negative impact on card diversity.
Banning these format staples certainly led to a shake-up of the format. Black cards like
The May 29 announcement also introduced a change to the cadency of changes to the Standard format. To reduce unpredictability and to build confidence in building and playing Standard decks, format changes would now be made once a year before fall previews begin. Although ban windows were retained after every set release, it was announced that it would be very rare to use these ban windows to make Standard changes. Indeed, the December 4 announcement had no changes for Standard:
"We view Standard as healthy when each of the macro-archetype strategies (aggro, midrange, control, and combo) are present and when new sets add cards to existing decks and spawn entirely new decks. We've seen this happening since the bans in May, even as Standard has grown to now incorporate ten sets in total ... It remains true that our goal is to make Standard changes only once per year during the fall rotation window, barring any extremely warping outliers, of course."
1. The Supremacy of Raffine, Scheming Seer
Esper Legends and Esper Midrange decks with
At the Regional Championships, 35 players qualified for the Pro Tour with Esper Legends—nearly the same number as for Grixis Midrange, even though Esper Legends was only 12.3% of the combined field. Thoralf Severin finished second with a well-tuned version of the deck at the European Championship, and the deck was rising in popularity throughout the entire cycle, boasting the highest win rate among all heavily-played archetypes.
In a vacuum, curving
At Pro Tour March of the Machine, however, Esper Legends ticked down in popularity and had a disappointing win rate. Despite gaining
At the World Championship, 29 out of 105 players registered
In the end, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz, playing a mostly stock build of Esper Legends, took it all down. It was a well-deserved victory for the Frenchman, who has been widely regarded as one of the strongest players in the game for years. His decklist looks strikingly similar to the one used by Thoralf Severin in his Regional Championship; changing
In the finals, Jean-Emmanuel Depraz defeated Japan's Kazune Kosaka, playing Esper Midrange featuring
Esper Midrange was 11.1% at the start of the year but then dropped to nearly non-existent numbers before rebounding with a whopping 19.0% at the World Championship. The deck does not have a single-minded focus on legendary creatures, allowing it to run the best threats and interaction across blue, black, and white. The individual card quality in the Esper shard remains amazing, featuring powerful three-drops like
The addition of
Although the most prominent Esper version has changed over time,