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Strixhaven Championship Day Two Highlights

June 05, 2021
Elizabeth Rice and Adam Styborski

From the initial 250 players half the field—126 in total—made the cut for Day Two of the Strixhaven Championship. Through the early rounds, split between Standard and Historic formats, two 7-0 players emerged: MPL powerhouse Seth Manfield and Magic Online hero Logan Nettles.

But it was far from over as a field full of the game's greatest—the German Juggernaut Kai Budde, French Hall of Fame member Raphaël Lévy, Pro Tour Avacyn Restored champion Alex Hayne, Pro Tour Fate Reforged champion Antonio Del Moral León, and many more—trailed just behind.

After four more rounds of Historic and Standard a stacked Top 8 emerged.

  • John Girardot
  • David Inglis
  • Matti Kuisma
  • Raphaël Lévy
  • Seth Manfield
  • Logan Nettles
  • Sam Pardee
  • Matt Sperling

Congratulations to the Top 8 of the Strixhaven Championship! Here's how we made it to our final eight competitors.

Day Two Metagame Breakdown

While records in both Standard and Historic are what matters to make the Day Two cut, seeing what made it through for the second day is always a good check on what's performing and what's not.

Archetype Day One % Day One Day Two % Day Two Conversion
Sultai Ultimatum 53 21.2% 27 21.4% 50.9%
Izzet Dragons 41 16.4% 22 17.5% 53.7%
Naya Adventures 23 9.2% 12 9.5% 52.2%
Cycling 17 6.8% 9 7.1% 52.9%
Dimir Rogues 17 6.8% 6 4.8% 35.3%
Gruul Adventures 17 6.8% 9 7.1% 52.9%
Mono-Red Aggro 16 6.4% 6 4.8% 37.5%
Mono-White Aggro 16 6.4% 8 6.3% 50.0%
Jeskai Mutate 15 6.0% 12 9.5% 80.0%
Temur Adventures 9 3.6% 5 4.0% 55.6%
Mardu Sacrifice 4 1.6% 1 0.8% 25.0%
Boros Winota 3 1.2% 0 0.0% 0.0%
Sultai Control 3 1.2% 0 0.0% 0.0%
Dimir Control 3 1.2% 0 0.0% 0.0%
Mono-Green Aggro 3 1.2% 2 1.6% 66.7%
Rakdos Sacrifice 2 0.8% 1 0.8% 50.0%
Four-Color Blink 2 0.8% 2 1.6% 100.0%
Sultai Titans' Nest 2 0.8% 1 0.8% 50.0%
Azorius Blink 2 0.8% 2 1.6% 100.0%
Rakdos Midrange 1 0.4% 0 0.0% 0.0%
Naya Fury 1 0.4% 0 0.0% 0.0%
Total 250 100.0% 126 100.0% 50.4%

While Historic played a role, the even conversion rates for top decks puts Dimir Rogues and Mono-Red Aggro up to question. With bag, splashy spells (Emergent Ultimatum), fast Dragons (Goldspan Dragon; Galazeth Prismari), and over-the-top burn (Zenith Flare) that can leapfrog plans with small creatures, it might look like the time of aggressive decks is over.

But the success of Gruul Aggro and Adventures (such as Kai Budde's build with a light splash of Disdainful Stroke) and Mono-White Aggro (in the hands of Alex Hayne and Michael Bernat) make the case it's perhaps more relative to the metagame than it seems. And lurking just beyond, the surprising Jeskai Mutate deck had far more success than expected, propelling Matti Kuisma throughout the Standard rounds.

Historic, too, had its share of chaining spells for value over and over.

Archetype Day One % Day One Day Two % Day Two Conversion
Izzet Phoenix 88 35.2% 50 40% 57%
Jeskai Turns 45 18.0% 22 17% 49%
Jeskai Control 24 9.6% 12 10% 50%
Jund Food 18 7.2% 9 7% 50%
Mono-Black Aggro 13 5.2% 6 5% 46%
Selesnya Company 12 4.8% 6 5% 50%
Gruul Aggro 11 4.4% 3 2% 27%
Five-Color Niv-Mizzet 5 2.0% 4 3% 80%
Dragonstorm 4 1.6% 2 2% 50%
Azorius Auras 4 1.6% 3 2% 75%
Dimir Rogues 2 0.8% 0 0% 0%
Boros Midrange 2 0.8% 0 0% 0%
Mono-Red Aggro 2 0.8% 2 2% 100%
Dimir Pact 2 0.8% 0 0% 0%
Grixis Control 2 0.8% 1 1% 50%
Elves 2 0.8% 0 0% 0%
Dimir Control 1 0.4% 1 1% 100%
Orzhov Auras 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Atarka Red 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Temur Marvel 1 0.4% 1 1% 100%
Neostorm 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Boros Magecraft 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Orzhov Shadow 1 0.4% 1 1% 100%
Azorius Control 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Temur Turns 1 0.4% 1 1% 100%
Temur Ramp 1 0.4% 1 1% 100%
Colorless Ramp 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Sultai Ultimatum 1 0.4% 1 1% 100%
Simic Turns 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Mono-Blue Spirits 1 0.4% 0 0% 0%
Total 250 100% 126 100% 50%

Historic shows similar conversions, with the popular decks reflecting a balanced group. But the numbers are a bit deceiving. The popularity of Izzet Phoenix and Jeskai Turns by overall count meant the top tables of Historical were filled with Expressive Iteration, Brainstorm, Faithless Looting, and Time Warp.

Expressive Iteration Brainstorm Faithless Looting Time Warp

As the day carried on it felt clearer and clearer that Jeskai Turns was far more resilient than it appeared at first, and Izzet Phoenix was more than plentiful among the players beginning Day Two at the top of standings. With so many decks keeping pace with each other, Historic's new shape with Historic Anthology 5 and the Mystical Archive looks to stay wide open two days in.

The Top 8 Assembles

After falling to Logan Nettles in the Round 8 opener on the day, Manfield continued winning anyway and quickly swept up to a 10-2 record. Facing Nettles again, this time in Standard rather than Historic, the nine-time Top Finisher and former World Champion had a different ending to their revenge match.

Then the following round he faced off against Rivals League standings leader Matt Sperling in a win-and-in for Top 8 showdown. Again, after he lost to his opponent in the Historic rounds that day, the 2020 Mythic Invitational winner took the victory back in Standard, and recovered from opening with a mulligan to lock up the first Top 8 slot.

The Strixhaven Championship Top 8 marks Manfield's tenth Top Finish, joining a rare crew as just the seventh player to earn the double digit lifetime achievement.

And that's in addition to his recent personal life achievement: becoming engaged.

"Honestly getting engaged allowed me to get my mind off Magic for a little bit," he said. "Sometimes you need to take a break and then when you come back you are more focused. I think that was the case for me for this event. I didn't go super hard preparing, instead I decided to play decks that I knew I would be able to navigate well."

Manfield's split focus wasn't all upside, even if everything worked out for him. "I made my deck decisions at the last minute, which might have been frustrating for the people I was testing with because I chose to go with different decks"

And Manfield wasn't the only standings leader to lock in a Top 8 slot in Round 14. Logan Nettles went 8-0 before stumbling, but his initial lead and outstanding play put him into the same boat as Manfield late on Saturday.

With Game 3 and Top 8 on the line, Nettles's clock was winding down. His opponent, John Girardot, was also looking for a Top 8 berth and wasn't anywhere out of the game yet. With speedy, clear play Nettles clicked through in a race to outplay his own clock.

With only a minute left on the timer, the battlefield was finally set for Nettles to win.

With a decade between Top Finishes, from the 2010 Magic Online Championship and 2020's Players Tour Online 3, Nettles went on to find two more over the following 12 months: the 2019 Magic Online Championship and here at the Strixhaven Championship.

"I do think I'm playing at the highest level that I ever have," Nettles said. "I'm in my 30s now, and I think it took a long time for me to mature as a Magic player. Poise, patience, and my overall mental game were my biggest pitfalls in the past, and I've made a lot of progress in those areas and feel at ease with my game and the whole process that goes into succeeding in high level Magic."

In the battles off-camera for the final round, Raphaël Lévy and Matt Sperling faced off again. While Sperling took the win in the Historic rounds, Lévy rallied back in Standard to clinch a Top 8 seat. Lévy credits working with players on team ChannelFireball Ultimate Guard for making it easier to test.

Raphaël Lévy

"Since I will be relegated from the MPL, I was able to join Luis Scott-Vargas and the ChannelFireball team to discuss strategies," Lévy said. "When I got there, there was no way I wasn't playing my Gruul Deck. I know every matchup. I know how everything works. That's going to be easy for me."

"We played a lot of Historic," Lévy continued, "and couldn't find a thing we liked." Like so many times for the ChannelFireball team this season, it was Bent Vos to the rescue. Vos had an Indomitable Creativity deck that didn't really work out, but it opened the door for another to catch Lévy's eye. "Gabriel Nassif posted a deck from Thierry Ramboa who had gone 4-0 the last weekend."

Gabriel Nassif

That deck was Jeskai Turns, and it took a little time for it to take off within the team. "I built and played it a little and said ‘this is busted' and I just kept playing it," Lévy said. "It's really, really good." And after prompting his team repeatedly, they too decided to give it a try. "They started playing it and they were like ‘maybe there's something good with it.' Phoenix was the deck we thought we'd play the most. Brent thought Nezahal, Primal Tide would be great in the sideboard. With a lot of Shark Typhoons the second and third matches got really good. Being ahead of the most-played deck was good."

"12 of us on the team submitted it." Lévy had lost in Historic only to a mirror match against Matt Sperling. The deck was great for the team all weekend.

Another French standout, John Girardot, also earned his way to Top 8 at the Strixhaven Championship. As dftleonidas on Magic Online, Girardot was a consistent competitor in the top ranks online, and had an earlier appearance battling at Mythic Championship VII in 2019.

To make it to Top 8 however he had to deliver a crushing loss to one of the rising deck masterminds of the 2021, Rivals League member Brent Vos.

It's been awhile since Sam Pardee notched his way to a Top Finish, and to do it he had to go through longtime teammate and Rivals League member Matt Natt.

Like many others attached to the cluster of players testing around team ChannelFireball, Pardee had picked up the powerful Jeskai Turns deck. His reasons, however, were simpler as he "played Jeskai Turns because it was a great mix of fun to play, and super busted."

The quality and power of the deck that takes extra turns helped many of the Top 8 competitors make their way to Sunday, including Matt Sperling.

Matt Sperling

In playtesting, Sperling played as the "villian" of his team, piloting decks that had the potential to defeat the powerful Jeskai Turns list. After finding the deck "incredibly hard to beat," Sperling and his team decided it would be the best Historic deck for the tournament, a decision which paid off. Although he suffered a round one loss against Kenji Egashira, he won out Day One with the deck along with his Sultai Ultimatum list.

Day Two came down to the wire as he suffered losses to Nettles, Manfield, and Levy in rounds 12, 14, and 15 respectively. Ultimately, his early successes and the high win percentage of his opponents would put him into the Top 8.

The Top 8 spot not only secured Sperling a larger slice of that $250,000 prize pool, but also padded his Rivals League standings lead in the race for a Magic World Championship spot. "The lead is really important to me," said Sperling. "Having a 5 or 6 match cushion instead of 1 or 2 seems massive to me. Nothing is in the bag yet, but every point really helps."

Matti Kuisma

David Inglis

Matti Kuisma and David Inglis were a duo to follow for Standard all weekend. Bringing the potent Jeskai Mutate deck, built on using a sequence of cards to mutate for mana and then reset everything for a profit, was unexpected but a welcome surprise that shook up the expected field.

Inglis clinched a clean win-and-in for Top 8 playing the deck.

Kuisma notched an 11-4 finish that was good enough to make it to Top 8 on tiebreakers after the final round. Where did this deck emerge, and is it really all it's cracked up to be? "My teammate David Inglis," Kuisma said, "spotted the deck from the May Strixhaven League Weekend lists, and after tuning it we found it to be very good against Sultai Ultimatum which we expected to be the most played [Standard] deck in the tournament. In addition to being a good choice for the metagame, it's also one of the most fun Standard decks I've ever played, so I'm definitely very happy about the choice!"

Putting himself and Inglis into Top 8 surely helped make the deck feel fun though.

Historic Showdowns Await

With all eight players determined, the Top 8 playoff was all that stood between them and claiming the crown of the Strixhaven Championship.

The Top 8 field will be a Historic format double elimination battle between a slew of Jeskai and Phoenix decks. Join these players, beginning Sunday at 9 a.m. PT to see which one of these players will claim the final Championship trophy before the 2020-21 Magic postseason!

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