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Strixhaven Championship Day One Highlights

June 04, 2021
Corbin Hosler and Elizabeth Rice

250 players kicked off the Strixhaven Championship on Friday, with $250,000 and positioning for the 2020-21 Magic postseason on the line. After seven rounds of Day One play, it came down to just two players looking back at the rest of the field.

Seth Manfield and Logan Nettles finished Day One undefeated, piloting their way through three rounds of a refreshed Historic format and four rounds of Standard. Excellent deck choice and expert play carried the pair throughout the day, and they entered Saturday with the inside track to a Top 8 berth.

Here's all the stories from across the day.

Familiar Faces Lead the Way

Anyone who follows competitive Magic is familiar with Hall of Famer and Team EnVy member Seth Manfield. He was picked to make Top 8 by several coverage personalities, and that prediction is looking strong after his seven win Friday run.

There's big stakes for Manfield. He entered the tournament in pole position for the race for the next Magic Pro League spot at the World Championship, and a strong finish this weekend would give him a huge leg up entering the next League Weekend. Still, he knows there's a long way to go.

"I'm feeling a bit nervous going into Day Two," he admitted. "I think I got some fortunate matchups today, and I never faced the Jeskai Turns deck that looks very popular. I played decks I was comfortable with and I'm happy with how I played them."

The other undefeated finisher was Logan Nettles, better known as Magic Online endboss Jaberwocki. He's a Grand Prix champion (Los Angeles 2018) and a two-time Magic Online Championship Series veteran, and now he's looking to add his fourth career Top Finish if he can string together another deep run on Saturday.

Lurking just behind the leaders are a handful of legends as well as some challengers looking to make their mark. The legendary Kai Budde sits just behind at 6-1, as does Hall of Famer Raphael Lévy and Pro Tour Avacyn Restored winner Alex Hayne and Pro Tour Fate Reforged champion Antonio Del Moral León, plus reigning World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and former Worlds champ Carlos Romão.

Just a few of the best players in the world. No big deal.

One strong performance came from Rivals League member Brent Vos. He was the architect of several dominant decks this season, and his hard work again paid off with a 6-1 finish.

There are eight more rounds of play to come on Saturday, four in Historic followed by four in Standard. When the dust settles then, eight competitors will return for a Historic Top 8 on Sunday.

The New Historic

Historic has been a fan favorite since its inception, bringing together cards from throughout Magic's history to form an arena with its own unique flavor. From Standard sets to supplemental releases such as Amonkhet Remastered and Jumpstart, Historic brings together a mix of cards unique to MTG Arena. We've seen the format go through numerous iterations over the past year, and with the recent advent of the Strixhaven: School of Mages's Mystical Archive and Historic Anthology V, the format is wilder than ever.



Let's start at the top. After Tainted Pact decks had their Historic moment in the sun at May Strixhaven League Weekend, a pair of new decks rose to take the crown at the Strixhaven Championship. Through three rounds of Historic play on Friday, it was a familiar face in Izzet Phoenix and the newcomer Jeskai Turns that were the talk of the tournament.

Arclight Phoenix Faithless Looting Brainstorm Expressive Iteration

They were the two most popular decks in the Historic metagame, they lived up to that billing on Day One. The Faithless Looting and Arclight Phoenix engine is familiar to anyone who played Modern over the last few years, and it's broken out on the Historic stage thanks to Looting to fill the graveyard and cheap cantrips like Brainstorm, Expressive Iteration, and Opt making it efficient to recur the Phoenixes.

It's hard to overstate how much of a shakeup Historic has been through over the past week. As Frank Karsten noted in his pre-tournament article, the top two decks from the Kaldheim Championship (Jund Food and Orzhov Auras) have taken a drastic downturn, thanks in part to the ultra-powerful Jeskai Turns deck.

Jeskai Turns is fueled by the Strixhaven standout Velomachus Lorehold. The wise Elder Dragon is the top-end of a deck that features two of the most powerful cards in the format: Time Warp and Mizzix's Mastery.

Time Warp Mizzix's Mastery Velomachus Lorehold

The deck is made even more consistent by a clever innovation: Indomitable Creativity. While the sorcery is typically used in Modern or Pioneer to put an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play by sacrificing a creature token, it takes a slightly different angle in Historic. Both Magma Opus and Prismari Command give the Jeskai deck interactive spells that can instead be cashed in for a Treasure token, and that Treasure is then trashed in order to bring out the only creature in the deck: Velomachus Lorehold. Backed up by countermagic and removal, the deck took the format by storm and delivered a number of players, like Logan Nettles, to early 3-0 records in Historic.

While the Turns deck has a combo finish, other players committed fully to a combo win. The result is a classic Magic archetype resurrected: Dragonstorm.

While the top of the Historic metagame seems somewhat settled (for now), there were also players who found success going off the beaten path. That includes Magic Pro League member Autumn Burchett, who leaned on an old five-color favorite in Niv-Mizzet Reborn to earn a 3-0 Historic finish. Adding Expressive Iteration, Vanishing Verse, and Mortality Spear to the pantheon of cards Niv-Mizzet can find gives the deck even more late-game potential.

Niv-Mizzet Reborn Expressive Iteration Vanishing Verse Mortality Spear

Burchett was involved in one of the best matches of the day. It came in Round 4 against the reigning World Champion and Hall of Famer Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, and it once again demonstrated the power of playing an 80-card deck with Yorion, Sky Nomad. As the games drug on and on against Damo da Rosa's Sultai Ultimatum deck, Burchett was able to just beat out the clock and blink basically everything on the way to the bank, their excitement at beating the world champ shared live on stream with the world.

Another standout performance came via Fiona Wei, whose Selesnya Company brew gave Collected Company fans hope. The addition of Elite Spellbinder, the card featuring Magic World Champion Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa's likeness, gave the deck new strength in a field filled by combo decks.

The Best of Standard

While Historic has undergone a major facelift in recent weeks, Standard has remained largely settled with just a handful of surprises. Namely, the Izzet Dragons deck that carried "GalaSeth Prismari Manfield" to the top.

The player Manfield beat in the final round, Matti Kuisma, brought an even more interesting deck. Jeskai Mutate has floated around the fringes of Standard, making "infinite" mana and looping an impressive combination of cards, but it had a banner day on Friday. Mutating Vadrok, Apex of Thunder and Lore Drakkis formed the perfect top-end to a spell-heavy control deck, and Kuisma piloted it well to end with a 6-1 record on Day One.

Goldspan Dragon Vadrok, Apex of Thunder Lore Drakkis

Looking Ahead

Four rounds of Historic and four rounds of Standard will take us through the home stretch to the Top 8. Watch all the live coverage for the Strixhaven Championship begin again at 9 a.m. PST at twitch.tv/magic!

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