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MPL and Rivals Gauntlets Metagame Breakdown

September 01, 2021
Frank Karsten

The event schedules for the Rivals Gauntlet and MPL Gauntlet have been updated. See this article for more details.

The MPL Gauntlet and Rivals Gauntlet will unfold on September 3–5. For the 24 competitors in each event (who qualified via the MPL, Rivals League, or Challenger Gauntlet) it will be one of the most important tournaments they will ever play. After all, four invitations to Magic World Championship XXVII are on the line—three in the MPL Gauntlet; one in the Rivals Gauntlet.

The format for both the MPL Gauntlet and the Rivals Gauntlet is Standard. It's the last premier Standard event featuring Throne of Eldraine, Theros: Beyond Death, Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths, and Core Set 2021, so it'll be a proper goodbye to old favorites and tenacious staples right before rotation.

All decklists will be published on the MPL Gauntlet and Rivals Gauntlet event pages at the beginning of Round 1 on Friday, September 3, but today we can take a look at the metagame as a whole.

Rivals Gauntlet Metagame Breakdown

The metagame at the Rivals Gauntlet breaks down as follows.


For Edgewall Innkeeper decks, a deck name includes a color if and only if the deck contains at least four main deck spells of that color. So a base red-green deck splashing for three Disdainful Stroke is labeled as "Gruul Adventures" while a base red-green deck splashing for four Giant Killer is labeled as "Naya Adventures".

Archetype Count % of Field
Jeskai Mutate 7 29.2%
Dimir Rogues 3 12.5%
Izzet Control 3 12.5%
Naya Winota 3 12.5%
Sultai Ultimatum 2 8.3%
Gruul Adventures 2 8.3%
Naya Adventures 2 8.3%
Sultai Gyruda 1 4.2%
Mono-Green Aggro 1 4.2%

I did not expect major Standard upheavals, but the Rivals Gauntlet still managed to surprise me.

479734 Lore Drakkis Goldspan Dragon

First and foremost, Jeskai Mutate has returned with a vengeance. Featuring a five-card combo—Vadrok, Apex of Thunder + Lore Drakkis + Unsubstantiate + Prismari Command + Goldspan Dragon is infinite mana when you keep targeting and bouncing your own Goldspan Dragon—it is a rather complicated deck to pilot. Yet among Rivals Gauntlet competitors, there are several players who have experience with the deck dating back to the Strixhaven Championship. In total, seven of the twenty-four Rivals Gauntlet competitors (29.2%) opted for Jeskai Mutate.

Vantress Gargoyle Crippling Fear

The surprises don't stop at Jeskai Mutate. For example, one Dimir Rogues player replaced Ruin Crab with Vantress Gargoyle, thereby enabling multiple main deck Crippling Fear. This could give an edge against the green creature decks in the field, and it's nice to see that developments that go against conventional wisdom are still possible even late in a format.

Kiora Bests the Sea God Cinderclasm Yorion, Sky Nomad

But the biggest impact on Standard since the release of Adventures in the Forgotten Realms has been the rise of Izzet Control. At the Challenger Gauntlet, Noriyuki Mori "went rogue" with Kiora Bests the Sea God and Cinderclasm, resulting in a well-deserved invitation the deck has become an established part of the Standard metagame to the World Championship. And since then, the deck has become an established part of the Standard metagame.

Yet an edge could still be found. A team of six veterans—three from the Rivals Gauntlet; three from the MPL Gauntlet—innovated by adding Yorion, Sky Nomad as a companion. Going up to 80 cards does not come at a large cost for this archetype because the only four-ofs in Noriyuki Mori's original list were Bonecrusher Giant, Riverglide Pathway, and Temple of Epiphany. So by going up to 80 cards, you'll draw Bonecrusher Giant or the right colors of mana slightly less often, but the downside is small. Especially since 80 cards can be easily reached by turning three-ofs into four-ofs and by adding several Fabled Passage and basics. In exchange, Yorion, Sky Nomad will help in long games, and blinking Kiora Bests the Sea God is particularly sweet.

While this is a nice innovation, in the Rivals Gauntlet it's all going to come down to your matchup against Jeskai Mutate, the most popular archetype. And I fear that Izzet Control lacks the answers needed in that matchup, as Bonecrusher Giant and Cinderclasm can't singlehandedly break up a mutate stack. Still, we'll have to see how it plays out in practice.

479741 Massacre Wurm Prosperous Innkeeper

The spiciest deck in the field, which surely no one was prepared for, is Sultai Gyruda. The game plan of this deck is to ramp into a turn-four or turn-five Gyruda, Doom of Depths, hopefully putting Massacre Wurm onto the battlefield. This seems quite effective against green decks relying on Esika's Chariot, but it doesn't seem as great at disrupting or pressuring Jeskai Mutate, Izzet Control, or Sultai Ultimatum. Still, I'll be rooting for the rogue deck.

MPL Gauntlet Metagame Breakdown


Archetype Count % of Field
Sultai Ultimatum 8 33.3%
Jeskai Mutate 4 16.7%
Dimir Rogues 3 12.5%
Izzet Control 3 12.5%
Naya Winota 2 8.3%
Gruul Adventures 2 8.3%
Jeskai Cycling 2 8.3%

When comparing the Standard metagame in the MPL Gauntlet to the one in the Rivals Gauntlet, there are several notable differences. For example, Jeskai Mutate may have been the most popular archetype in the Rivals Gauntlet, but it's "only" the second-most popular in the MPL Gauntlet.

Emergent Ultimatum Binding the Old Gods Alrund's Epiphany

Instead, the most-popular archetype is Sultai Ultimatum. One-third of the players in the MPL Gauntlet chose this deck, a choice that one could describe as "conservative". Perhaps they are banking on the experience they've gotten with Sultai Ultimatum over the last year or so, or perhaps they simply liked the way the deck played. Regardless, even though the decklists didn't look particularly innovative, ramping into Emergent Ultimatum is still just as powerful as it always has been.

Flourishing Fox Zenith Flare Irencrag Pyromancer

A final difference between the two gauntlets is that Jeskai Cycling, which was absent in the Rivals Gauntlet, is the deck of choice for two players in the MPL Gauntlet. In my experience, Jeskai Cycling has a positive matchup against Sultai Ultimatum, so it seems like a well-positioned choice for the MPL Gauntlet. In any case, matchups in Standard tend to be fairly close, so it'll all come down to execution—tactical sequencing, clever sideboarding, and optimal in-game decisions. With the field absolutely stacked with talent, matches are bound to be tight.

Conclusion

This weekend, the final four seats for the Magic World Championship XXVII will be claimed. To do so, the players can take advantage of all the Standard knowledge they've gathered over the past year, including all the matches they've played against longtime staples of the format.

The most-played nonland card across both events combined is Disdainful Stroke, which will remain legal post-rotation. But (barring reprints) this weekend will be the last time on twitch.tv/magic that you get to see archetype- or format-defining cards like Emergent Ultimatum, Lore Drakkis, Thieves' Guild Enforcer, Zenith Flare, Bonecrusher Giant, Omen of the Sea, Winota, Joiner of Forces, Yorion, Sky Nomad, and Edgewall Innkeeper in Standard.

The three-day broadcast begins Friday September 3 at 9 a.m. PT—watch the action live at twitch.tv/magic!

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