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Players Tour Finals Win Rates and Top 8 Preview

July 30, 2020
Frank Karsten

Nearly a full year of tournaments led to the Players Tour Finals, which featured an exceptionally strong field of players. The 145 invited players battled over 14 rounds of Standard in a Standard metagame dominated by Wilderness Reclamation. In this article, I will first look backward at the deck performance from the Swiss rounds and then look forward to the Top 8, which will happen this coming Saturday.

If you're just catching up on the event, these videos (produced by YouTuber Nizzahon) recap the most-played cards across all decks at the Players Tour Finals.

Players Tour Finals Archetype Match Win Rates

To start off, let's review the following table provides the match win rates for each archetype in non-draw, non-mirror, non-bye matches during the 14 Swiss rounds at the Players Tour Finals.

Four-Color Reclamation Dominated the Swiss Rounds

Out of all archetypes with six or more pilots, Four-Color Reclamation had the highest win rate. Essentially, it's Temur Reclamation with a white splash mainly for Teferi, Time Raveler and Dovin's Veto. The white cards annul enormous end-step Explosions, providing an advantage against other Wilderness Reclamation decks. This edge in the "mirror" proved essential when over half of the field was running some kind of Reclamation deck.

Ben Weitz, a competitive Magic veteran who qualified by winning Grand Prix Phoenix in 2020, cunningly finished the Swiss in first place with the following list.

Most Creature Decks Performed Poorly

Various white, green, or red creature decks underperformed at the Players Tour Finals. Mono-Green Aggro, for example, had a disappointing 39.4% match win rate. And Mono-Red Aggro was even worse, at 35.7%. As it turns out, times are tough when over half the field has main deck Aether Gust. (Most Temur Reclamation players ran two or three copies in their main decks.)

Embercleave Glorious Anthem Pelt Collector

Mono-White Aggro and Esper Midrange, which many were hoping would be the answers to the format, also had sub-50% win rates in the Swiss. Mono-White Aggro did perform well against Reclamation decks, but it was held back by a poor performance against the rest of the field. And Esper Midrange—a Ken Yukuhiro brew featuring Rotting Regisaur and Teferi, Time Raveler—looked good against Reclamation decks in theory but failed to beat them in practice.

Mardu Winota and Mono-Black Aggro: Breakout Decks of the Tournament

Two off-meta aggro decks, played by only one player each, reached the Top 8 at 10-3-1 records. Based on their performance, Mardu Winota and Mono-Black Aggro can rightfully be called the breakout decks of the tournament.

Michael Jacob, another competitive veteran and one of Magic's original streamers, went 7-0 against Reclamation players on his way to the Top 8. His Mardu Winota deck goes wide with Raise the Alarm and Lazotep Reaver to enable multiple triggers from Winota, Joiner of Forces. His deck gained a lot from Core Set 2021: There's Selfless Savior to trigger and protect Winota, as well as Basri's Lieutenant and Kitesail Freebooter to hit with Winota.

Jacob went low on red cards, opting for Woe Strider instead of the more commonly included Legion Warboss, Tajic, Legion's Edge, and/or Embercleave. By reducing the number of valid Aether Gust targets, he gained a small advantage against everyone with main deck Aether Gust. Shaving Embercleave also opened up Jegantha, the Wellspring as his companion. It's a well-tuned list that crushed Reclamation decks in the Swiss.

Riku Kumagai, who qualified by winning Grand Prix Nagoya in 2019, made the Top 8 with his take on Mono-Black Aggro. The typical plan for such decks was to put Demonic Embrace on Rotting Regisaur, but Kumagai must have realized that this is vulnerable to Brazen Borrower or Solar Blaze. Instead, he attacked the metagame with Hunted Nightmare, which has close to no downside against the creature-light Reclamation decks, and main deck Duress and Kitesail Freebooter to break up their combo.

And the best part about Mono-Black? If the opponent draws Aether Gust in Game 1, it's completely and utterly useless. All in all, Riku Kumagai had the right colors, the right list, and it paid off with a slot in the Top 8.

The Top 8 Playoff Coming

Having looking backward at the standout decks from the Swiss rounds, let's now look forward to the Top 8, which will happen on August 1. It will be a double-elimination bracket, where all matches are a best two-out-of-three games. There's only one exception: The Grand Finals, which will determine the Players Tour Finals champion, will be a best two-out-of-three matches.

Currently, the Top 8 bracket is empty. That's because it isn't determined by the traditional seeding based on Swiss standing but instead will be seeded randomly. The randomized bracket, which will show who will be playing whom, will be revealed on Friday, July 31. Friday's Top 8 bracket reveal show, hosted by Maria Bartholdi, Cedric Phillips, Marshall Sutcliffe, and Paul Cheon on, will start at 12 p.m. PDT.

In the meantime, we do of course know the Top 8 players and the Top 8 decks.

The Top 8 is reflective of the metagame as a whole: There's four Reclamation decks, split between the two versions, and four disparate other strategies. The big question is: Will Wilderness Reclamation continue to reign supreme in the Top 8, or will one of the challengers take the crown?

To give an indication of players' chances, I ranked them according to their expected win rate versus the rest of the Top 8, based on archetype vs. archetype results from the Swiss rounds. My calculation was a simple one that treated non-available matchups as 50-50, ignored the bracket structure, didn't adjust for small sample sizes or specific variations of the lists, and disregarded the play/draw advantage for the higher seed.

In other words, take this all with a grain of salt. But looking at how archetypes fared against other Top 8 archetypes during the Swiss rounds provided a fun little metric to rank the Top 8 from high to low.

1. Michael Jacob (Mardu Winota)

With his innovative rogue list, Michael Jacob went 7-0 against Reclamation decks throughout the Swiss. As there are four such decks in the Top 8, this puts him in a great position. Especially if he dodges Azorius Control, whose main deck Shatter the Sky may prove problematic for his creature-based strategy, Jacob may just have the best chance of winning the whole thing. I'll be rooting for him.

2. Riku Kumagai (Mono-Black Aggro)

Playing the other breakout deck of the tournament, Riku Kumagai did fairly well against Reclamation players in the Swiss, and he also defeated Michael Jacob when they faced off in Round 2. In my view, Kumagai has the second-best chance in the Top 8.

3. Christoffer Larsen (Jund Sacrifice)

The semifinalist of last month's Players Tour Online 2, Christoffer Larsen leveraged Mayhem Devil into yet another Top 8. Larsen will be happy to face Mardu Winota or Mono-Black Aggro, but he'll hope that the Temur Reclamation players will be on the other side of the bracket.

4. Raphaël Lévy (Azorius Control)

MPL member and Hall of Famer Raphaël Lévy's Azorius Control has, based on the archetype vs. archetype results from the Swiss records, a sub-50% win rate versus the rest of the Top 8. His matchup against Reclamation decks is doubtful, and he dodged a lot of them before reaching the Top 8. He could, however, prey on the non-Reclamation decks.

5. Allen Wu (Temur Reclamation)

In second seed after the Swiss, Pro Tour 25th Anniversary champion Allen Wu will get to choose play/draw versus everyone except Ben Weitz. However, the Top 8 field appears hostile for Temur Reclamation, as both Mardu Winota and Four-Color Reclamation are bad matchups.

6. Patrick Fernandes (Temur Reclamation)

The second Top 8 player on Temur Reclamation, Patrick Fernandes still has trouble believing that something he only dreamt about actually happened. His first Top Finish means a lot to him, but there are many tough matchups waiting for him in the Top 8.

7. Ben Weitz (Four-Color Reclamation)

Purely from a deck archetype perspective, Four-Color Reclamation will have a hard time against most of the Top 8 apart from Temur Reclamation. Yet for Ben Weitz, reaching the Top 8 had been a long-term goal for many years, so he'll be happy with his finish regardless of how the Top 8 matches play out.

8. Kristof Prinz (Four-Color Reclamation)

With his 9-0 start in the tournament, Prinz showed he can play his deck very well. His white splash will also help against other Reclamation players. But his weaker and slower four-color mana base will hurt against everyone else, and Four-Color Reclamation appears to have the lowest expected win rate versus the rest of the Top 8 if my metric is to be believed.

Overall, it looks like it'll be an interesting Top 8. There are four archetypes that all have very different ways of attacking the Reclamation decks—whether it's by controlling, grinding, or attacking—and I'm excited to see how it shakes out.

As a reminder: The Top 8 bracket will be revealed on this coming Friday, July 31, at 12 p.m. PT, and the entire Players Tour Finals Top 8 will be streamed on, starting on Saturday, August 1 at 9 a.m. PDT. Don't miss it!

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